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New Stadium Packed, But Same Old Bears

Club Hasn't Made as Much Progress as Chicago's New Facility

October 05, 2003|Bob Oates | Special to The Times

They've been saying in the Windy City that the owners of the Chicago Bears humiliated them twice last Monday.

* Cited first is the made-over $365-million stadium known as new Soldier Field. Though it is comfortable, few Chicagoans -- and there are millions of them -- will ever see the inside of the place. From the outside, architecturally, new Soldier Field has been described as a space ship on stilts wedged onto old Soldier Field.

* Worse are the Bears. The team is a product, Chicago sports fans say, of club owners who don't understand football, of coaches who don't understand modern football and of players who can't play it.

Green Bay won the modern way Monday night, integrating a passer, Brett Favre, with a runner, Ahman Green, on a long series of clever "West Coast offense" plays that brought the Bears forward to rush Favre when Green had the ball -- which was 19 times for 176 yards -- and sent them after Green when Favre was firing 21 passes for 179 yards.

During a 38-23 game that the Packers dominated in the first quarter, 17-0, and for a half, 24-6, the old-fashioned home team scored a few meaningless points in the second half when Green Bay's defensive players had trouble staying awake. But the Bears are 0-3 now -- and for the last two years they're 4-15, a number suggesting that nobody in the organization has a clue.

Bad Luck for Reid

The NFL's most-watched coaches, Steve Spurrier and Bill Parcells, are still winning, still combining their ways with mainstream pro football ways. They've thrown the ball when they could, run it when they had to, played solid defense and, surprisingly, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys rank one-two in the NFC East. .

For Spurrier, the fun-and-gun leader who has revived the Redskins (3-1), it could all blow apart today at Philadelphia (1-2).

For Parcells, the doctor who mended three other teams before he was called to the Cowboys (2-1), the string could run to 3-1 against Arizona today before he too must settle up in Week 6 with Philadelphia, the prize team of the NFC East. The Eagles are still heavily favored in that division.

But as of Week 4, when Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia all won, stormy weather was clearly ahead, this year or next, for Philadelphia's defending Eastern champions. Indeed, it's plain bad luck for veteran Eagle Coach Andy Reid that Spurrier chose the NFC East when he came up last year and that Parcells did the same when he came back this year.

Philadelphia Mystery

The Eagles found a team they could beat last Sunday when, in a 23-13 game, their best runner, quarterback Donovan McNabb, outgained the entire Buffalo team. Still, after McNabb's five years in a well-coached organization, the mystery of Philadelphia is why nobody there can teach him to throw a ball straight.

McNabb is a tremendous athlete with not-bad passing form, meaning that a good teacher could help him, but it hasn't happened yet.

And so in a tense fourth quarter against Buffalo's gritty quarterback Drew Bledsoe, it came down to a lucky last run by a swift second-string Eagle, Brian Westbrook, who in the last two minutes slipped through a short-yardage defense and raced past the Bills' drawn-in secondary to the goal line 62 yards away. Bledsoe deserved better.

Game of the Day

Jake Plummer, the new man in Denver (4-0), is already a better quarterback than Kansas City's veteran 4-0 passer, Trent Green, and that is the Broncos' edge in today's big game at Arrowhead Stadium. Setting the table:

* Nationwide, football fans, sensing that Kansas City Coach Dick Vermeil is on course to win as usual in his third year in a new town, have been climbing on the Chiefs' bandwagon.

* As luck would have it, this is the season that the Broncos have come on again, after a four-year injury-induced layoff since their consecutive Super Bowl appearances with Coach Mike Shanahan. He finally has a quarterback again along with most of his indispensable pass receivers, which include a bright new one, Ashley Lelie of Hawaii, who is noticeably efficient under a thrown ball.

Because the Chiefs' running game is so powerful with Priest Holmes, the question of the day is whether Bronco running back Clinton Portis will be there, and if so, for how long.

With an injury diagnosed as a bruised chest, Portis missed Week 4 but needs to return today to keep the Kansas City defense off Plummer. A more electrifying ballcarrier than Holmes, Portis is listed at 205 pounds, which seems a bit small for modern football.

Hence durability is Portis' problem. His replacement, the 1,000-yard tailback-fullback Mike Anderson, is no Portis.

Officials Right Again

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